Unless, of course, disrobing isn’t an option
These are not flashes of inspiration, bursts of wisdom, or any other euphemistic declaration. These, my dear, are hot flashes, my body’s way of telling me I’m getting old but I’m still hot. Intensely hot. At times. Usually when it’s least convenient.
And so I start a conversation disdaining euphemistic interpretations of the eccentricities of our female bodies by adding my own. I apologize.
Though telling someone you’re having a hot flash does not increase the chances that they will think you’re hot. Just old. So it’s better to keep it under wraps (which might make you hotter).
If you see me wearing sleeveless shirts and dresses through every season, suddenly removing a sweater or jacket and then replacing it a few minutes later, that’s because I am the quintessential Goldilocks.
As did the little girl who trespassed the home of the three bears, I like my food, my chair, and my bed “just right.” When it comes to room or outdoor temperature, my “comfort zone” is quite small. I am easily too hot or too cold, rarely “just right.” Add hot flashes to the mix, and I can be both within the same minute.
Imagine if I could harness the energy that causes hot flashes — or time them so I could generate my own heat for those cold winter nights or burn away a fevered illness before it begins.
A rite of passage we hide
While not all women experience hot flashes, they are a normal progression of aging, a rite of passage. Why should we pretend it isn’t happening?
One day I sat in a one-on-one meeting with my boss. It was chilly in the building, and so I wore a light sweater. Which was fine until I had a hot flash. If I’d been alone in the room, I’d have quickly thrust my sweater far from me, but I wasn’t. I was new at this rite. So I sat across the desk from my boss in my sweater, feeling my body get hot and my face flush and all the while hoping I didn’t actually have beads of sweat across my upper lip.
Of course, I pretended nothing abnormal was happening.
A few minutes later when I escaped, I happened to look at my face in a mirror and see a bright, shiny red nose and pink cheeks. So. Not a hot flash. A hot flush. Which is an advertised hot flash — in case my suffering isn’t evident enough. Or perhaps this was a youthful glow?
Weeks before I’d been marketing at a conference inside a hotel on the beach in Ft. Lauderdale. A resort hotel. I’d arrived the evening before, set up my booth, attended a networking event and went to bed. I’d awakened early that morning, hit the hotel gym, then manned my booth all day long, suffering the occasional hot flash and flush, of course.
“Did you get sunburned?”
It was my boss, arriving mid-day and, apparently, mistaking me for someone with free time or the sense to come a day early to enjoy the location. I indicated I’d been inside since I’d arrived, although a simple “yes” might have worked.
I then took a quick break to the ladies’ room, where I glanced at my reflection and was horrified to see Rudolph shining back at me. Yay, repping the company as a reindeer. (Granted, a reindeer who guides the rest of the department with her shiny nose, but, still, not the look I wanted.) Yay, me. Unequipped to do more, I blotted my nose with some toilet paper and managed to tone down the shine. Hot flush, baby.
In yoga class, I manage to downward dog, plank, baby cobra, and act like a tree and all sorts of warriors — all without sweating. But hold my arm out and pull my fingers in one by one, by golly, and I am suddenly dripping.
At the end of class, when the next group instructor entered and started the powerful fans, I paused in front of one of them to get cool. When I casually mentioned “hot flashes” to an older woman by way of explanation, she looked at me as if she had no idea what I meant.
“I’m never hot or cold anymore,” she said to me.
Really? She couldn’t muster an “Oh, you poor thing! I went through that and …” Doesn’t everyone go through this? Or most people? Am I alone?
Is anyone ‘rite’ there with me?
I shared my thoughts with my 30-something walking partner at work, who seems to know more about hot flashes than my peers because she’s watched her mother suffer. That day, I told Rachel, when we reached Savasana (corpse pose) in yoga class, I’d been suffering a flash of heat. Sprawled on my back with my arms and legs at angles to my body, I realized how cool the floor felt in contrast to my mat. I reached my arms and legs out farther to touch the cool floor.
“That’s what my dog does when he’s hot,” Rachel told me.
Finally! Someone who understands. (A dog.)
A couple of nights ago while my husband and I were eating dinner, I became exceedingly hot. Without saying a word, I simply took off my shirt and continued eating.
“Wow. I didn’t know I was getting a floor show with this meal,” my husband said.
Hot flashes with benefits.
Another morning when I left the gym it was 31 degrees outside.
“You look so cute all bundled up for the cold!” Tracy called to me as I left the locker room wearing pants, a sweater, a wool coat, a scarf, gloves and a beanie with a big pom-pom on top.
I got in my car, feeling quite satisfied that I not only was dressed for the weather but also that I was cute to boot. Yay, me. I proceeded to drive to work, my car’s heater only slightly, if at all, warm, and I was thankful for the warm attire.
At the first traffic light, however, I had a sudden flash of heat. My car’s heat wasn’t suddenly doing its job, but my body was overcompensating, enthusiastically declaring I was going through “the change.”
(Who knew that “the change” meant I’d change my outfit in an instant — and then change it back again?)
I tried to wait out it out — because, let’s face it, unbuttoning a wool coat while trapped behind a seatbelt isn’t easy. But as the intensity rose, unbuttoning a wool coat became imperative. I unbuttoned it and opened it as wide as the seatbelt would allow. Not cool enough. I yanked off my gloves and beanie and scarf.
The light turned green, and as my car began to move again I felt chilly. Cold flash? That might have been the car, still blowing just warmish air. But, no, I knew it was my Goldilocks body, no longer too hot, now too cold, and nothing was just right.
I finally mentioned my hot flashes to one of my workout partners.
“Black cohosh,” Kathy responded immediately. “That took care of them for me.”
Since she’d “graduated” from this horrible stage of life, she offered to give me her supply of black cohosh. I stopped by Kathy’s house to get the supplement after work one day, and we talked some more.
I was so excited to find someone who could understand, I launched into a narrative describing my hot flashes.
“Oh,” Kathy said, looking uncomfortable, “I guess I only had warm flashes.”
“Well, how long did you have them?” I asked, hoping my season of hot flashes was nearly over.
“Not long,” she said, encouragingly, “just about two years.”
“Two years! Two months is too long!”
WebMD wasn’t any more encouraging than Kathy. It said the average length of time for experiencing hot flashes was 7 years. Seven years! Two months is too long. As I might have said.
In response to my query, my doctor suggested black cohosh, soy products, and wild yams. Various sites on the internet suggest that I should avoid stress (ha!), caffeine, alcohol, spicy foods, tight clothing, heat, and cigarette smoke. I’ll give those suggestions serious consideration. I’m not sure I can give up tight clothing. (Just kidding!)
I yam what I yam. A hot mess. On occasion. When I am not freezing.
Redeeming the ‘change’
Three thoughts occur to me as I embrace — and admit to you — this new (please, God, let it be short) stage of my life. (The stage, God, not the life, just to be clear. I still have a book to write and grandchildren to meet.)
My first thought is that I don’t have to be comfortable. This isn’t heaven. (This is menopause. The “change.” It is definitely not heaven. Although if I keep stripping off my shirt at the dinner table, my husband might think so.) I shouldn’t expect to be comfortable. As Laura Story sings in her song “Blessings,” maybe these hot flashes are blessings in disguise?
My second thought is this: Comfort is overrated. I love it, I prefer it, but I am not made better by comfort. Discomfort prompts action. In anticipation of hot flashes, I take black cohosh and dress in extreme layers — usually something sleeveless with a sweater, scarf, winter coat, hat, and gloves.
A coworker will see me walk down the hallway hugging my sweater closely to my body in an attempt to be warm — and moments later see me stripped down to my sleeveless shirt. When a hot flash or the chills start, I act.
Likewise, I try to find solutions to everyday problems — because I don’t want the problem to continue. If I can’t find a solution, I’m reminded that someone else can — or a solution doesn’t matter. God is in control, and as a youth pastor named Asa once said when teaching on the book of Job, when I see God as he truly is, nothing else really matters.
My third thought is that I should be able to be open and honest about this. I don’t mean that I should campaign for sympathy when I’m DYING OF HEAT STROKE, for goodness sake. (But can’t somebody bring me a fan?)
Is it pride that makes me pretend all is well when I’m overheating? About to sweat? Flush bright red? Note to self: It’s not as if people will think I’m too young for such a thing. (Bummer.) Bigger note to self: Stop pretending.
Better to be cool than to look cool
The reality is this: While I would prefer to appear cool, calm, and collected, what’s more important is BEING cool — and getting there via disrobing, a powerful fan, lying on the cold floor, whatever — than LOOKING cool.
With that in mind — and with the length of time I’ve had to decide if I’m brave enough to post this “State of the Union Undress” — I’ve admitted my discomfort and its cause to a few people who either sympathize or offer remedies. Or lend me clothes in an emergency.
This morning, I dressed for work in the ladies’ locker room at the health club. Immediately, I realized that the long-sleeved sweater I’d chosen to wear — though thin and made of 100 percent cotton — was a big mistake. I was having a hot flash.
“I’m doomed! I can’t wear this sweater,” I groaned to Connie and Kathy, mindful of Lesson No. 3 above. “I’m never going to survive the day.”
“Are you having a hot flash?” Kathy asked. “I started getting them again, too.”
“I’ve had mine for 20 years!” Connie said, as if I would find that inspirational.
But I had a plan. (See thought No. 2 above: Discomfort prompts action.) I called my colleague Rachel and asked if she could bring a shirt for me.
“I’m not sure I have anything long enough,” my short friend Rachel mused. “I could lend you my llama sweater or …”
I cut her off.
“I am wearing a sweater, and I don’t think I’m going to survive the day without the ability to take it off. A T-shirt or a tank top would be fine.”
“Well, I have a hockey T-shirt that might work.” She sounded doubtful.
I got off the phone and tucked my scarf a little closer to the back of my neck. I was suddenly chilly, of course.
So my title for this post is misleading. Oh, my goal for menopause is to never let them see me sweat — because my ultimate goal is to have no hot flashes to make me sweat. But, if I do suffer hot flashes, I’m not going to sweat it.
Lots of girls in their 30s go through early menopause…
P.S. One evening, my husband stood at the other end of the kitchen when I had a hot flash. He watched as I stripped myself of any impediment to being cool (i.e. clothes), then said, “Another flash of hotness, huh?”
I believe he’s coined the perfect (albeit euphemistic) term for this. Somehow having a “flash of hotness” is so much more tolerable than a “hot flash.”
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.
For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen.
For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”2 Corinthians 4: 16-18